(Pocket-lint) - Klipsch has been building speakers for so long that it still uses horn-loaded tweeters, a more old skool way of producing these high-end-delivering outputs. This 3.1-channel Bar 48 soundbar system has improved sensitivity thanks to those retro-looking tweeters.

There's also a separate wireless subwoofer for deeper bass output, backlit remote included, and an HDMI-ARC connection (audio return channel for plug-and-play simplicity with a TV). Otherwise, however, this particular soundbar is somewhat light on features - the emphasis being on performance.

The big question: does the Klipsch Bar 48 sound good enough to hold its own against better-specified alternatives?

Retro Looks

  • Soundbar: 1211 x 73 x 86mm
  • Sub: 302 x 410 x 410mm
  • Available in black

The Klipsch Bar 48 is the very definition of an acquired taste. There will be those who will love the distinctive horn-loaded tweeters at either end, and those who'll immediately be put off by them. If you don't like the retro look that's tough – because there's no removable grille to cover them.

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What you do get is a well-made soundbar that uses a simple rectangular shape and is constructed from wood, which is unusual these days. There's a wrap-around black fabric grille, which covers the three woofers and the centre tweeter, while the two end tweeters are exposed but use a dark silver finish to add a bit of class.

The Bar 48 isn't likely to win any design awards, but there's a timeless elegance to its overall look, and Klipsch includes interchangeable end caps to help better match your decor – which is a nice touch. Aside from LED indicator lights there's no display, but at the top to the corner you'll find basic controls for power, volume, input.

Klipsch

The included wireless subwoofer is also made of wood and has a build quality that generally matches the main unit, combined with a simple black finish. It uses a large 8-inch downward-firing driver with a bass port, to ensure plenty of low-end extension. The sub should pair automatically with the soundbar when you first turn them both on too.

Features

  • 3.1-channel output
  • 440W amplification
  • Optional surrounds
  • Dolby Digital
  • DTS 5.1

The Klipsch Bar 48 is relatively limited in terms of features, but that does make it extremely easy to setup. It's designed to be plug and play, offering a solution that quickly and effectively upgrades the built-in audio of your TV.

The three front channels are each composed of a 1-inch soft dome tweeter mated to a Tractrix horn, and two 3-inch oval fibre composite cone woofers. The use of a dedicated centre speaker should ensure dialogue remains clear and focused on the screen.

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All these drivers are separately amplified to deliver a detailed and dynamic performance, and the system as a whole has 440W of power.

Klipsch has included three sound modes: Dialogue for increased vocal clarity; Night for reduced dynamic range when you need to keep things quiet; and Surround to virtually create the effect of rear speakers. The company also plans to add DTS Virtual:X via a USB firmware update.

The Bar 48 can decode lossy Dolby Digital and DTS formats up to 5.1 channels. However, if you want to create a genuine 5.1-channel system, you need to buy the optional Surround 3 rear speakers (which connect using a dedicated USB wireless transmitter).

Connections & Controls

  • HDMI connection with ARC (audio return channel)
  • Optical digital input; 3.5mm analogue input
  • Remote control with backlight included
  • Subwoofer output (for wired use)
  • Bluetooth wireless

The Klipsch Bar 48 has a fairly basic set of connections, which are located in a recessed area at the rear of the soundbar. There's a single HDMI-ARC port, an optical digital audio input, and a 3.5mm analogue input. There's also a USB port for adding wireless rear speakers, an input for an IR extender, and built-in Bluetooth. Klipsch has included a subwoofer output, allowing you to upgrade the wireless sub with a wired one if you wish, or even run dual subs.

Pocket-lint

There's a full-sized remote control, which makes a nice change, and it sensibly has a backlight for use in the dark. The zapper offers all the buttons you'll need to effectively control the soundbar, including keys for power, volume, and cycling through the various inputs. There's also a mute button and one for turning off the LED indicator lights, along with additional controls for adjusting the subwoofer level, and selecting the Dialogue, Surround, and Night modes.

Sound Quality 

The Klipsch Bar 48 is an impressive sonic performer, thanks in no small part to the emphasis placed on sound quality. Klipsch knows what it's doing when it comes to speakers, which is evident from the three front-firing drivers in this soundbar. The combination of woofers and horn-loaded tweeters results in a wide and expansive front soundstage with exceptional levels of detail.

Klipsch

The mid-range is especially well represented, retaining plenty of depth and clarity, while the horn tweeters not only provide superior sensitivity, but also render the higher frequencies with an exacting clarity. The Bar 48 might not be to everyone's tastes aesthetically speaking, but it sounds genuinely impressive, whether you're listening to music or watching your favourite TV show.

In fact, this soundbar is so good with two-channel stereo that it's a shame there aren't more ways of listening to music. You can use the optical digital and analogue inputs, along with Bluetooth, but the lack of multi-room functionality or smart support is a shame. However, whichever method you do choose you'll be rewarded with an energetic and enjoyable performance.

Of course, where the Bar 48 really adds value is in terms of quickly and easily boosting the sound quality of your TV. The width of the main unit lends itself to a big soundstage that spreads out on either side of the screen. This not only allows for better stereo imaging with music, but also results in effects being placed around the front of the room with remarkable precision.

Klipsch

The dedicated centre speaker produces dialogue that remains clear and anchored on the screen. So whether it's the news, sports, or a documentary, this soundbar always delivers the vocals with a pleasing accuracy that guarantees you won't miss a single word.

The addition of a separate subwoofer also ensures the bass has depth and power, creating a solid low frequency foundation.

When it comes to movies all these factors combine to produce a balanced, engaging and rewarding soundstage at the front of the room. There's little in the way of rear presence, even when applying the virtual surround processing, but the overall sonic delivery retains plenty of dynamic range and the bass gives LFE (low frequency effects channel) greater impact. 

Verdict

The Klipsch Bar 48 eschews modern design choices and object-based sonics, resulting in a decidedly old-school soundbar. This more focused approach works when it comes to sound quality, with the three forward-firing speakers creating an open and detailed front soundstage. A dedicated centre speaker ensures clear dialogue, while the wireless subwoofer delivers deep bass.

The downside to this no-nonsense philosophy is that the Bar 48 looks somewhat limited when it comes to features. There are no extra HDMI inputs, no Wi-Fi, no smart features, and no support for immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. However, if none of that matters and all you want is a superior audio performance, then the Klipsch Bar 48 is certainly worth considering.

Also consider

Sony

Sony HT-ZF9 

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A good example of the kind of feature-packed soundbar you can buy for the same price as the Klipsch Bar 48. It also uses a 3.1-channel layout, but adds psychoacoustic decoding of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. The inclusion of two HDMI inputs, Wi-Fi, Chromecast and the ability to work with smart assistants, shows what else is available for the money.

Samsung

Samsung HW-Q70R

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Another great alternative to consider. This 3.1.2-channel soundbar supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X without needing to resort to psychoacoustics thanks to upward-firing drivers. It also has an HDMI input, built-in Wi-Fi, works with Amazon Alexa, and supports multi-room functionality. It's a bit pricier as a result, though.

Writing by Steve Withers.